State space semantics and conceptual similarity: Reply to Churchland

Philosophical Psychology 13 (1):77-95 (2000)
Jerry Fodor and Ernest Lepore [(1992) Holism: a shopper's guide, Oxford: Blackwell; (1996) in R. McCauley (Ed.) The Churchlands and their critics , Cambridge: Blackwell] have launched a powerful attack against Paul Churchland's connectionist theory of semantics--also known as state space semantics. In one part of their attack, Fodor and Lepore argue that the architectural and functional idiosyncrasies of connectionist networks preclude us from articulating a notion of conceptual similarity applicable to state space semantics. Aarre Laakso and Gary Cottrell [(1998) in M. A. Gernsbacher & S. Derry (Eds) Proceedings of the 20th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Mahway, NJ: Erlbaum; Philosophical Psychology ] 13, 47-76 have recently run a number of simulations on simple feedforward networks and applied a mathematical technique for measuring conceptual similarity in the representational spaces of those networks. Laakso and Cottrell contend that their results decisively refute Fodor and Lepore's criticisms. Paul Churchland [(1998) Journal of Philosophy, 95, 5-32 ] goes further. He uses Laakso and Cottrell's neurosimulations to argue that connectionism does furnish us with all we need to construct a robust theory of semantics and a robust theory of translation. In this paper I shall argue that whereas Laakso and Cottrell's neurocomputational results may provide us with a rebuttal of Fodor and Lepore's argument, Churchland's conclusion is far too optimistic. In particular, I shall try to show that connectionist modelling does not provide any objective criterion for achieving a one-to-one accurate translational mapping across networks
Keywords Mind  Science  Semantics  Space  Churchland, P  Fodor, J  Lepore, E
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DOI 10.1080/09515080050002735
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